About 160 veteran nurses, personal support workers and health care technicians, along with their families, gathered at a church hall in Port Perry, Ontario, in person or by video conference, on a snowy afternoon last Saturday.
These distressed individuals have a message for patients waiting for health care in the county: We want to work on the front lines but we are being shut out.
“I am ready, willing and able to work,” Lori Turnbull told CTV National News. But no one will hire her.
The 58-year-old once worked in surgery and rehab but was fired a year ago from a hospital in London, Ontario, after 30 years on the job.
In fact, all health workers in this extraordinary public have been terminated after being refused access to two COVID-19 vaccines in 2021, as required by 140 Ontario public hospitals and some nursing and retirement homes.
“I’ve worked in emergencies…for 20 years,” Casie Desveaux, a nurse from Hamilton, Ontario, told CTV National News.
Now she says she works in her brother’s office. She knows her hospital is still severely understaffed.
She said “I’m worried… for the staff out there… it’s very scary”.
The group at the caucus wants Ontarians to know there are experienced frontline workers who would like to return to work but are being blocked by vaccine policies enforced by hospitals in the province, even though Ontario itself does not require health workers to be vaccinated.
“I think people knew we were fired or let go,” Anna Loxton, who worked as an emergency nurse, told CTV National News. But I think since the county said it lifted mandates last March [people] I thought we were going back to work. The truth is, we didn’t.”
Since being forced out of healthcare, Loxton has worked on a dairy farm as a waitress but says she wants to return to front line care.
Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Labrador and Yukon no longer require health workers to get COVID-19 vaccines.
During a briefing in February, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Kieran Moore, said it was time to consider removing vaccination policies across sectors.
“They served their purpose,” Moore said. “They must be removed in time.”
However, despite Ontario dropping its health sector mandate in March, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) continues to recommend continuation of mandatory vaccination policies among the province’s 140 public hospitals.
Regional officials say hospitals can chart their own course in this regard.
“As mandated by the Public Hospitals Act, hospital managers are responsible for the day-to-day running of their hospitals, including policies regarding human resources,” Bill Campbell, media relations coordinator for the Ontario Department of Health, told CTV National. News in an emailed statement.
At a church meeting, one of the nurses spoke about the staffing shortage at her former health facility recently with 64 staff.
“And we are here?” She said.
Many of the other health workers who spoke broke down in tears.
Someone said “This is our profession, our livelihood… It was our passion.”
Another added, “What I find hypocritical is that the facility from which I was fired is open to unvaccinated visitors to attend and unvaccinated family members… Why can’t I go back to work without being vaccinated?”
There are no official figures on the number of health workers who have been fired or let go due to vaccination policies.
“This is just a fraction of the health workers who have been fired or laid off… I’m sure more would join us if they could,” Helena Baker, a registered nurse, told CTV National News.
OHA did not respond to multiple emails from CTV National News seeking an explanation of why it recommends continuing vaccination policies for employees and any scientific reason behind it.
guidance to hospitals Consider hiring unvaccinated workers In December, officials wrote: “The OHA believes that COVID-19 vaccination policies within Ontario hospitals should remain in place since they provide the highest level of protection for patients and healthcare workers.”
“This is not about patient safety,” Rafael Gomez, director of the Center for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto, told CTV National News. Patient safety is compromised when we don’t have frontline workers dealing with heart attacks, dealing with illnesses. It doesn’t make any sense.”
One expert says the Ontario government has the power to force hospitals to cancel vaccination policies.
“Legislatively, the province could order no mandates, but it didn’t,” human rights attorney Lisa Beldy told CTV National News from her home in London, Ontario. “In Alberta, the government has, in fact, told Alberta Health Services that they need to bring back unvaccinated workers. We haven’t done that here. I’m not entirely sure why.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced last week that the province will Importing nurses from elsewhere in Canada To help with the hospital staffing crisis.
“To the nurses, doctors and healthcare workers across Canada: If you have been thinking of making Ontario your new home, now is the time to make it happen,” Ford said.
The refusal of Ontario hospitals to hire unvaccinated nurses, even after dropping the provincial vaccine mandate for health care workers, is baffling, according to Arthur Schaeffer, founding director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. .
“Without a well-proven public health justification for refusing to hire unvaccinated healthcare workers — at a time of serious staffing shortages — hospitals should welcome or welcome back every qualified and available Ontario nurse,” he told CTV National. News.
“Denying someone to work, without good scientific evidence showing that they pose an unacceptable risk to the life and health of patients and colleagues, is bad public health policy and appears to violate the human rights of the people involved.”
Meanwhile, health workers who have lost their jobs due to the vaccine situation say they have suffered financially, as termination for misconduct – an intentional act – can limit a person’s access to social support.
I cannot collect unemployment. I can’t collect welfare. “We’re left out in the cold,” said one of those present at the church meeting.
These health workers can work in other counties, some at higher rates.
“Yeah, I get called probably on a weekly basis,” said Anna, a veteran registered nurse, who asked CTV National News not to use her real name. “I’ve been offered several contracts in Alberta… It pays well, but then again, do I want to leave my family behind? The timing isn’t great.”
Instead, she works at a grocery store. Others reported working in veterinary clinics, retail trade, and cleaners.
Both the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) and the Canadian Nurses Association declined to comment to CTV National News. They say their focus is on fighting for better working conditions and wages. Nurses who have refused vaccines are not a priority.
But in a press release from ONA, officials said, “Nurses are leaving in droves, citing exhaustion, exhaustion, and moral distress.”
The statement adds that Ontario will Need to hire 24,000 registered nurses Just to match the national safe rate of nurses to patients ratio.